NUCLEAR LIABILITY BILL - For us or the US ?


जिस बील को लेकर संसद मे कोहराम मचा हुआ है. वो आखिर क्या है? इसपर प्रकाश डालने के लिए डॉ. बी. बी. सिंग ने हमारे खास न्योते पर यह लेख लिखा है. इस लेख पर अपनी राय जरुर दें....

NUCLEAR LIABILITY BILL - For us or the US ?
Dr.B.B.Singh
Former scientist of BARC and IAEA and presently a practicing lawyer, Bombay High Court

Nuclear industry in India is presently State owned and is set to increase from the present 4120 MWe to 60,000 MWe by 2030. This would mean 50-60 new Nuclear Power Plants each costing Rs.6,000 crores in capital investments alone. When the costs for fuel, reprocessing, waste management and decommissioning of the reactor is included this would run into further several hundred billions of US dollars. This all will not be possible without foreign participation in the Indian nuclear power market. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill-2010 that is about to be introduced in the Parliament is being made to believe "a must" for India to usher into international nuclear markets.
This is a misinformation when we examine the NSG waiver document of 6th September 2008 that permits India to participate in the global nuclear market. To receive nuclear technology and materials from NSG countries, India has made seven assurances and the Bill is nowhere in it. The waiver document states “Participating Governments have taken note of steps that India has voluntarily taken with respect to the following nonproliferation commitments and actions: (a) Deciding to separate civilian nuclear facilities in a phased manner and to file a declaration regarding its civilian nuclear facilities with IAEA in accordance with its separation Plan; (b) Concluding negotiations with the IAEA and obtaining approval by Board of Governors on 1st August 2008 for an “Agreement between the Government of India and the IAEA for application of Safeguards to Civilian Nuclear Facilities” in accordance with IAEA standards, principles and practices; (c) Committing to sign and adhere to an Additional Protocol with respect to India’s civil nuclear facilities; (d) Refraining from transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to States that do not have them and supporting international efforts to limit their spread; (e) Instituting an international control system capable of effectively controlling transfers of multilaterally controlled nuclear and nuclear related material, equipment and technology; (f) Harmonizing its export control lists and guidelines with those of the nuclear suppliers group and committing to adhere to Nuclear Suppliers Guidelines and (g) Continuing its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, its readiness to work with others towards the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Based on the commitments and actions mentioned above the Participating Governments have adopted the following Policy on civil nuclear cooperation by Participating Governments with the IAEA Safeguarded Indian civil nuclear program.” It is thus very evident that as far as nuclear commerce with NSG States is concerned, no national legislation is mandated for civil nuclear liabilities.
The potential for electric power generation from a nuclear reactor was well recognized in the fifties of the last century when this technology was a fully State-owned secret science. It could best be developed in participation with the private sector with their experienced manpower and technical know-how in power production. However, as the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in mind, the industry was unwilling to enter into this field for fear of being bankrupt on paying compensation for damages in nuclear accident that could be catastrophic. The powerful industrial lobby in the US therefore demanded some kind of indemnity from the State for such eventualities. The Price-Anderson Act 1957 of the US was then enacted wherein while the maximum liability for nuclear damage was fixed at US $560 millions, the industry was burdened with only US$60 millions for the initial 20 years. This Act has been amended from time to time and its 2005 version places responsibility of US$10,761 millions squarely on the industry without any contribution from the State. In the event of a claim for damages exceeding this limit, the US Senate will tap public funds.
The US took note of India's lucrative nuclear market and its limitations. The US intention in capturing a huge chunk of the Indian market is neither a secret nor a surprise. It has in its godowns huge stocks of reactor grade surplus uranium resulting out of dismantling its own the nuclear weapons and also acquired from the earstwhile Soviet Union countries under the "Megaton to Megawatt" program. However, while still facing global sanction, India conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and demonstrated its potential in nuclear technology. This coupled with mouthwatering business opportunities, the then US Secretary of State Strobe Talbot and India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh met fourteen times in seven countries on three continents during June 1999-September 2000. Finally, US tempted and persuaded India to sign the famous 18th July 2005 Joint Statement and enacted the enabling domestic legislation The Hyde Act 2006 on 18th December 2006 permitting nuclear trade with India. The US further cajoled and coaxed India to sign the IAEA Safeguard Agreement on 12th July 2008 and subsequently the 123-Agreement on 22nd July 2008. The only hurdle for the US in nuclear trade with India that still remains is the matter of civil liability for nuclear damage.
The US domestic law, The Price-Anderson Act 1957 (amended 2005) places on the operator a staggering US $ 10,761 millions compensation for nuclear accidents with State obligation only beyond it. Any accident in India in US supplied reactors or reactor materials would be much more ruinous for the US industry than the Union Carbide for the Bhopal gas tragedy. There could be one way out to lessen this liability of the industry. And that is if India could be persuaded to join one of the international conventions on civil nuclear liability, preferably the "Convention on Supplementary Compensation 1997" (CSC) wherein the liability can be brought down to SDRs 300 millions (US$ 465 million). The US promptly signed and ratified it in December 2007 although CSC was open for signature on 25th September 1997,
India cannot. The CSC is open only to those countries that are signatory to the "Vienna Convention 1963" or the "Paris Convention 1960" or have enacted a domestic civil liability legislation in compliance with the guidelines in CSC. India is not signatory to any of these conventions and hence it can be a party to CSC only on enacting a domestic law on civil liabilities for nuclear damage. Hence is the Bill-2010 in the Indian Parliament. Once India passes the Bill, it can be a party to the CSC along with the US; both becoming contracting Parties shall abide the provisions therein.
The Bill-2010, u/s 6, fixes the total liability at SDRs 300 million-the minimum required under CSC. If and when the liability exceeds the said limit, the contracting parties shall contribute to the remaining claim in accordance with Article IV of the CSC. It is significant to note that CSC is still non-operative and so far Argentina, Morocco, Romania and US are the only countries that have adopted the CSC. A rough calculation shows that their joint contribution to nuclear damage liability beyond SDRs 300 millions would be just another 101 million SDRs. The saddest part of it comes when we look at the beneficiaries of this contribution which is restricted under Article V of CSC to the contracting parties only. In an Indian accident its neighboring countries would be the most affected but none of these are contracting Parties to CSC. The big question then arises "Who benefits from this Bill 2010? The US or we the Indians: one with its liability reduced from US$10.761 bn to SDRs 300 millions or the other one to pay for the damages to the neighbors?"

In conclusion, accepting with pride that the Indian nuclear industry has reached full maturity despite its 35 years of isolation due to global sanctions, India should not play second fiddles now and should be a willing partner in the international nuclear market only without compromising its interests and principles. Bill should be withdrawn.

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